Steve, with the team at 8-8, stuck in that middle ground where the league seemingly wants to see everyone, there are lots of directions the team could go and lots of ways we think the team can get better. Once everybody gets to Jupiter, Fla., for your annual meeting and you close the doors, what is the first thing you will address to these gentlemen and everyone else in attendance?* (Joe Platania)*
*(STEVE BISCIOTTI) *"I'm not going to address. Usually, it starts with trying to get me zoned in on the salary cap. Everything kind of goes from there. Ozzie has always done a good job of painting the picture of what is to be and what can be. Clearly, if you release players that are still under contract, there's a decision about the dead money versus the saved money. Then, we look at what kind of players we would rather complement the team with than the ones that we would be not extending or asking for reductions. Really, the majority of the first half of the first day is just trying to get a good feel that all of us understand what limitations are placed on us and how we can create more opportunities by making tough decisions. I would say that's kind of the first part of the first day."
Steve, with not making the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, it seemed like there were more empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium than usual this year. How concerned are you with fan discontent? Is that something you have noticed as well? (Jeff Zrebiec)
(BISCIOTTI) "Yes, I've noticed it. I'm always concerned. I said apathy is the worst emotion, in the past. There's a lot more disappointment and anger than apathy, so I don't think we're at any kind of critical stage there. The fact that our renewals have always – good times and bad, even back in the '04, '05, '06, '07 area – our renewals are kind of always in the 97.5 to 98, 99 percent. We have other people willing to buy those PSLs and come in. We've kind of been through the same slump. Even when we … Let's face it, you talk about people moving out of town and people divorcing and giving up their tickets. We've never seen the fluctuations based on our success. I still, to this day, can't understand how somebody that has a PSL and has tickets that doesn't go to two of the games doesn't give them to their neighbor, neighbors' kids or their babysitter or somebody else who is dying to go to those game. But it happens. People wait until the last minute and decide they're not going to go. It's disappointing, but to me, they should be prepared for an opportunity to make somebody else happy that doesn't go. I don't really think they're not going because they're protesting. I think maybe the more we lose, the more they get distracted by other things, and we lose that priority on a Sunday. It's obviously significant; I just don't know how much it fluctuates."
Along those lines, a lot of fans I hear from on social media and the radio don't seem to be as confident as they have been in that past that this franchise is moving in the right direction, particularly offensively. They seem to be concerned that there are issues that may not be easily fixed. If someone said to you, "Tell me why the Ravens, particularly offensively, are going to be better," what would you say? (Cliff Brown)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"We were better this year with Joe Flacco back in the lineup, but I certainly don't think we saw the Joe Flacco that he's capable of being. We've seen a better Joe Flacco in the past. I think that more than that, we've got some young guys in from this draft. We had a very successful draft with [Ronnie] Stanley and [Alex] Lewis and [Kenneth] Dixon. I'm pretty optimistic that Joe is going to be better next year than he was. That, to me, is the biggie on the offensive side of the ball. We need to get more out of Joe. Joe would agree with me, and Joe is committed to making that happen. Hopefully, that can go from five [wins] to eight to 11. That's what I would believe."
With the age of this team, there are going to be a lot of high salary cap numbers with your older players. Do you think there need to be a lot of changes? Do you think this team needs to get younger going forward?* (Jamison Hensley)*
*(BISCIOTTI) *"That's such a hard one, because it's kind of like those numbers where you average 88 yards running, and you're the 24th-best team, then you get up to 95 yards rushing, and you jump 12 spots. I kind of look at it that way. Somebody made that exact question to me in our Super Bowl year. Ray [Lewis] was 36, I think, and Ed [Reed] was 33, and I said, 'If I replace those two with 22-year-olds, that would pick up 20-something years. Divided by 11 players on defense, and all of a sudden our defense would have gone from one of the oldest to one of the youngest. So, if anybody is in the mood to let Ray and Ed go, then we can become the youngest defense in the league.' So I just don't see that. I don't see age; I see accomplishments. [Elvis] Dumervil had a rough go of it getting back on the field, so we're going to have to project whether he can get back to what he is. Certainly, we're just as likely to move on from a 24-year-old as we are from Dumervil based on our assessment of their capability. I just don't like that age question. I don't think it matters. I think that a lot of the teams, like New England, who goes out and supplements their thing with guys like Shea McClellin, it doesn't make them a worse team with a 10-year guy versus a two-year guy. I just don't know how valuable that is to focus on that. To me, it's production."
Steve, you talked about the fans' sentiments being more disappointment than anger and apathy. If you could describe your feelings on this season, I will take that. Can you elaborate and tell me why you feel that way about this 8-8 season? (David Ginsburg)
(BISCIOTTI) "How about 'bewilderment.' I thought our offense started playing better, and then our defense collapsed in the last four weeks – from the No. 1-rated defense, then we started giving up 28 and 30 points. The minute you start counting your strengths, then they can show up as weaknesses. It's such a moving target, that it is frustration. I can't say it's anger. I don't think you can properly … I don't think you can manage anything, really, with anger. I may have been angry after games, but that's why John [Harbaugh] and I don't talk after games. (laughter) He deserves that. I woke up yesterday, and I realized I had the press conference today. I thought about 8-8 and the disappointment and how many close calls we had and how we were this close to getting in those playoffs. We have been a team that has never been a 14-2 team, odds aren't favored to win. We won two Super Bowls when people didn't expect us to. When you're that close it's really, really disappointing. I can point to things that frustrate me, but it's better brought to these guys' attention *(points to Cass, Newsome and Harbaugh). *I'm worthy of an opinion on certain things. Sometimes I'm wrong. Anger really isn't one that gets me, I guess. It's frustrating when you are waiting for something else to improve to get you over the hump and even if it does, something that you had been counting on disappoints you. I don't think anybody would have expected Pittsburgh to put up 21 points on us in the fourth quarter after that defense held them to 10 for three quarters. To lose a lead like that, and then have us go right back down the field, and Joe [Flacco] show that kind of mettle that he has shown over and over and over again in big games and in tight games down the stretch coming back to win … We did what we had to do, offensively, and then the defense gave it up. All of a sudden, we're looking to scrutinize that defense as much as we have to the offense."
Ozzie, when you look at the roster, what do you assess as the biggest area needing improvement this offseason? (Ryan Mink)
(NEWSOME) "I think John [Harbaugh] touched on it at his final press conference. We need to add some depth in the secondary. We need to improve in the offensive line. We need to find a complementary receiver. I think those are the areas that we feel like we should attack this offseason – whether it's through free agency, the drafts, trades – whatever way we have to do it, but to get better in the secondary, find a complementary receiver and get bigger and stronger in the offensive line."
Steve, you said you are worthy of an opinion. Your opinion carries a lot of weight as the owner. What's the No. 1 opinion that you want everybody in the organization to be aware of going into 2017? (Gerry Sandusky)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"That the pitchforks are out. They know it. We're going to enjoy our two days [meeting as a group in Florida], but we're going to have a lot of … We're going to have a lot of plans, but we're not necessarily going to know they're going to come to fruition – how we're going to plug all those holes. Again, it's a moving target. You all and me … I can't say Stan [White, former Baltimore Colt and current WBAL analyst]; there are some pretty good football players out there that probably know a hell of a lot more than me. [We're] trying not to make mistakes that we make in assessing people. We had some guys that were coming into their second and third year that we thought would take a bigger step than they did. We had Shareece Wright, who actually graded out better than Jimmy [Smith] in the last six weeks of the season. We made that one of our priorities that we thought we could lock that down, and Shareece gets away from the fundamentals and loses technique and starts playing poorly. That really set us back, to be honest with you. There are a lot of people that played well that we thought would play better, and they played no better or worse than they did this year. The best laid plans … You think you have some holes filled, then they spring a leak again. The one thing, I guess, is that I want them to know … I guess I want my fans to know that I think John can coach better. I think Ozzie and [assistant general manager] Eric [DeCosta] can draft better. I think Joe can play better. If all of them do it – and I think they're capable and determined to be better – then I think next year we're sitting here with a playoff-caliber team, and I really believe that. If you get improvement from quality people, I believe that they can collectively bring this team back to prominence. I understand that nothing I say today is going to change opinions. You all have a lot of opinions. I don't think that I'm going to walk out of here and … You've heard me for a lot of years. I don't think you're going to go, 'Boy, I'm sure glad I got to talk to Steve.' I don't really have answers. I have guidance. I have opinions – some stronger than others, some misguided, some misinformed – but it doesn't stop me from having strong opinions. I want these guys to … That's the beauty of quality people. I'm with a GM and a coach and a quarterback that are taking every one of their parts of the blame in spades. Every one of them feels they're the main reason why we failed, and that's all I can ask for. You have a bad team when people are pointing fingers, and you see that with dysfunctional GMs and coaches that can't get along and things like that, and we just don't have that. I have a coach that is carrying a burden, I have a GM that is carrying a burden, and I have a quarterback that's carrying a burden. They're all stepping up and taking a greater percentage of the blame than they probably deserve. To me, that's the definition of quality leadership. I expect them to work like they're the main reason that we failed. If they all do, I think that they'll more than compensate for our shortcomings this year. Here I get into the mix, because the only negative things I hear about me is that I care more about continuity than winning. I can't change that opinion from people. I can't tell them that firing people is my way of showing my disappointment with our results. It's just not the way that I'm built. I'm being criticized, too, and it just goes with the territory. That's where we are, and I'm fine with it. I'm excited about it, because I'm with people that have the right, the power and the intelligence to make those changes and those decisions. I trust them. My optimism starts sooner than anybody else's optimism."
A common theme the last few years has been a need for this team to have more high-end playmakers at the top of the roster. I just wanted to get your thoughts. How much of that do you think is luck, like Pittsburgh finding Antonio Brown late in the draft? How much is it an inability to find that kind of talent over the last few years, and how much is it maybe some of not developing the talent that you have to get to that level? (Luke Jones)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"That is really not fair for me to judge whether we had an Antonio Brown and didn't develop them. If you let me go through the league and pick out 10 fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-round [draft picks] and undrafted free agents, I could build a team better than anybody else in the league. We have always said if New England thought Tom [Brady] was so good, they would not have waited until the sixth round. If Pittsburgh thought Antonio Brown was so good, they would not have waited until the sixth round. A lot of that is luck when you get to that level. We are more focused on finding fits in those first few rounds that we can plug in and play. I think we did a little better job of that this year, but it is a crapshoot. You saw us have five picks in the fourth round. That is the first time any team has ever had as many as five picks in a round as low as four. I do not think there was ever five picks in the fifth round. There were a couple teams that had five picks in the sixth round and a few teams that had five picks in the seventh. I think that we handled the draft really well last year. I think we are going to find some really good players there. I hope one of them turns out to be elite. I hope that we have those kind of guys. I hope Alex Lewis turns out to be as good as Kelechi Osemele was as a second-round pick, and our first indication is that he may be that good, but we will see. I hope he does not disappoint. I hope [Kenneth] Dixon does not disappoint. That is what we are hoping for – that we see that kind of growth. But I am not qualified to decide whether these guys are not developing at a rate that they should."
You talked about going 5-11 in 2015. You could argue that you were maybe a yard away from making the playoffs this year. How do you go into the offseason? How much different is it this year than it was after a five-win season and now going to almost making the playoffs, but not making the playoffs? How different is it for this group being up there in your 10th year together than it was in Year Two, Three or Four now that you have all been together this long? (Stan White)
(BISCIOTTI) *"That is a good question. Last year, we did not know what we were going to get from an injury standpoint with Joe [Flacco] and Steve [Smith Sr.] and [Dennis] Pitta and all of those guys coming back from injuries that had been really good performers in the past. Again, Joe … Is the recovery from what everybody else says that they are not back completely, did that mess with his mind? Did that mess with his timing, his accuracy? I think it did. At least this year, we are going in with some proven guys that have shown that they are back from injury and that they should be as good or better. I have not given up hope that Steve Smith is going to come walking in here in September. He is probably not coming in in August. *(laughter) *We will see about that character. I would not count him out. I think that it really comes down to that Joe is going to have to prove that he is back and he is better. Some of these other guys already did. It is a little bit different this year. The Giants spent a ton of money and rebuilt a defense and got to 11-5 and then got beat up in the playoffs in the first round. Would I feel better if we were 11-5 and got trounced in the playoffs in the first round? Yes, I actually would. I would not be here today, because I would not do this [press conference] two days after that kind of disappointment. I need time to get over it. But, I would feel better if we had performed better, done better, even if we were extremely disappointed getting knocked out in the first round, which so far, in his existence here *(points at coach Harbaugh), that has not happened."
Ozzie, you have mentioned some of the offseason priorities. With OLB Terrell Suggs and OLB Elvis Dumervil getting older, is edge pass rusher also a priority, whether in free agency or in the draft? (Ed Lee)
*(NEWSOME) *"I think it goes first to the two young guys that we have and getting them better – Matt [Judon] and Za'Darius [Smith]. But unless … Except for last year, if you are picking in the Top 4 or 5 of the draft, you can get that elite pass rusher. [Joey] Bosa went third last year. But yes, anybody that can affect the passer – that would definitely help us on defense. If that player becomes available, whether it is by draft, whether it is by trade – all the different ways you can get one – because we have gotten guys through different manners. Anybody that can affect the passer, we would definitely like to have them."
I know from the outside, there was a lot of discussion about change on offense, as far as coordinators, and John stood up here and said everyone is staying. Speaking with John and even QB Joe Flacco and with Marty Mornhinweg coming back, what did he [Mornhinweg] show you this season? What do you know about him that there is confidence that there will be change, as far as showing it on the field next season with that offense? (Morgan Adsit)
*(HARBAUGH) *"That is something we have talked about before. You spend a lot of time thinking about this and deliberating and looking at where we have been and where we are going. I do not think I need to stand up here and sing a coach's praises who has had 25 years in this league and has had tremendous success. And all these guys are great coaches. We need to find the right fit for us, the right fit for Joe, the right fit for our organizational philosophy and what we are trying to build and who we want to be and what our identity is going to be. I believe wholeheartedly that is Marty. I believe that it is our staff working together to build what we believe is going to be the kind of offense that we need to run to win football games. We have talked a lot about it, and what that looks like and what we are trying to accomplish and how we want to do it. We will continue to do that over the next couple of months before the guys get back, specifically in terms of how we are going to do it. You go with what you think is going to be the best. I really believe that Marty Mornhinweg is a heck of a football coach. I know he wants to run the ball. I know he wants a physical offense. I know he wants a quarterback that is playing in a certain, confident way that makes good decisions and makes big plays while he protects the football. All of the things that we all know we want are things that he believes in. We are on the same page in terms of the type of offense that we want to build. Now, we have to get there. It is one thing to have a picture and a vision of what you want. The next thing is to get there, and that is what we go to work on."
Steve, when you guys go into meetings in Florida, will you have an opinion on what you want the identity to be on offense or do you leave that to John and the coaching staff? (Brent Harris)
(BISCIOTTI) "I think that we are all in agreement that you need a more balanced offense. A lot of people say that the three- and five-yard passes are an extension of the running game nowadays in the league that has become pass-happy. But no, I think that our success still goes back to good defense and balance, and that means a strong running game. Yes, I was really disappointed in the lack of a running game, the lack of a commitment to the running game. But sometimes, when you are in the heat of things, there were not a lot of times when I was screaming at the TV or at the game saying, 'Run it! Run it! Run it!' It does not necessarily dawn on me. I think that the end result and the disparity – it speaks for itself. I do not think that we are going to be successful putting the ball in the air 600-and-some times. It is just not our identity, and I do not know how we got that far away from it. We did have some injuries on the [offensive] line in the middle of the year, and that may have skewed us the other way. But I want to run. I want to run the ball. I want to control the clock, and I want to play good defense. We have given up leads by the defense in the past. That is always going to happen, just like we are going to take leads from good defenses in games. Balance – I certainly want it, and I certainly do not have anyone up here telling me that I am wrong. Like I said, how we got away from it, that is something that probably will get behind us pretty quickly, because really, it is what it is. I think it is bad, but I think we will change it."
Ozzie, when you look at the pending internal free agents, take us through the process of who you can keep and how much flexibility you might have to keep some of the bigger-name pending free agents? (Brett Hollander)
*(NEWSOME) *"We will discuss all of that while we are down in Jupiter. [Vice president of football administration] Pat [Moriarty] and I have already started to look at what happened in the market last year with players at the particular positions that our players play. You look at the market, and then you have to predict what it is going to be like in 2017. We have taken a look at that. We have already had some opportunities to speak with some of the agents. We have talked to some of the players before they left and let them know that we really would like to retain them. A lot of the legwork has been done. We will formulate to a plan when we go down to Jupiter as to how we want to execute the plan. But a lot of the legwork has been done already."
Steve, if things go the way they did this season, will there be wholesale changes? Is that something that you have made public to your inner circle? The decision to retain Marty Mornhinweg – we have heard John's explanation. The fans do not seem happy with it. What do you say to them? (Jerry Coleman)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"My quarterback seems happy with it." *(Reporter: "And as far as the changes, if things do not go the way you perceive?") *"I will have to see what fails next year."
Is it a situation where you want to see how things play out? If you see improvement, is that what you are saying? (Jerry Coleman)
(BISCIOTTI)"Yes, I want to see improvement." (Reporter: "And if not?") *"Then, I will figure out what we have to do. It might be me. Who knows?" *(laughter) (Reporter: "Fire yourself? Jed York said that you cannot fire yourself.") *"Yes you can, actually." *(laughter)
If WR Steve Smith Sr. does not return, will there be a focus on replacing him with another veteran wide receiver? I know in the past, you have had Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin. You have always had a veteran guy on the offense – even Derrick Mason. (Jordan Schatz)
*(NEWSOME) *"Yes, some of the success that we have had here is going out – whether it is by trade or free agency or cap casualty – and getting a veteran receiver that still has some juice left, that still has the ability to play at a high level. When I was talking about getting a complementary receiver, that is what I was referring to. It does not necessarily have to come through the draft, but it can come through other means. We definitely will be pursuing that this year."
Steve, you talked about firing yourself. Have you ever just sat down and thought how many more years you want to do this and own this team? Is that something that goes through your mind, especially when you have a long season? Ozzie and John, everyone is talking about QB Joe Flacco and how he did not perform up to par and how he is going to come back. What if he doesn't? Who is the heir apparent? Is it something in the draft or free agency that you are going to bring in to this replace this guy? How many games does he get to show you that he can be the old Joe and not perform like he did this year? (Mike Preston)
*(HARBAUGH) *"I will start on that. From a coach's perspective, that is not how you look at it. We are looking at it like we are going to be as good as we can be next year, which means we are going to be great. That is how I am looking at it. We are going to build a football team around Joe, and Joe is going to be another year removed from the injury. We are going to build an offensive line that is best in the league, and we are going to put a running game together that is going to support the quarterback. We are going to put a great defense on the field that is going to put us in a position to have a chance to dominate some football games. Our goal is not to be in 14 one-score games that can go either way at the end. We want to be in a position where our offense closes the game out, where we extend leads at the end. That is the kind of team you want to build. For me as a coach, Joe can get that done, and Joe is going to be better next year. There is no doubt in my mind that he is going to be better next year, because he is going to be healthier, because we are going to have an offense in place that we all believe in, and we are going to work on it from Day One with our guys healthy in training camp. They will have a chance to … I am not going to sit here and make excuses for anything in the past, but there are going to be some situations next year that are going to put us in better positions to execute an efficient, precise passing game that can put the ball down the field a little better than it did last year, along with a running game. That is what we are trying to build here. That is what we are looking forward to trying to do. As far as if it does not work? I am not looking at that 'if.' I am looking at – we are going to make it work – as a coach. I kind of think that is all of our approach. Any kind of long-term plans that get made, they get made. But no matter how your quarterback is doing, when they get up in years, you have to look at the next guy in line for any position, probably. But we are looking to have Joe Flacco playing high-level football next year – the kind of football that is going to put us in the playoffs like you are talking about and beyond. That is what we are going to be trying to build."
(NEWSOME) "From my perspective, when I talked about depth, I was not talking about not having a quarterback. You saw over the weekend what happens to teams when the No. 1 quarterback gets hurt, and you are trying to win a playoff game. Whether we end up drafting one … You have to have two quality quarterbacks in this league to be successful year-in and year-out. Whether we go through the draft or whether it is a free agent, whatever it is … But we realize that Joe is one play away from being injured. We have seen that."
(BISCIOTTI) "I am the only one that can tease about walking away. These guys [Newsome and Harbaugh] do not. It is their career. I think about selling the team on Sunday nights after losses. I think about selling the team for a week after the season is over. And that is it. I think it is healthy, because I am not tied to this. This is not my career. But I am not a good enough golfer to go pro. *(laughter) *I love the game. I love the game. I love the highs and lows. I thrive on not being disappointed, but you have to play the game. You have to subject yourself to that disappointment in order to have the elation that you have when you succeed, when you overachieve, when you finally get to hold that trophy. I have 20 partners out there that have never done it, and I have done it twice. I feel sorry for myself every once in a while, and then I look at my partners that would say, 'Shame on you for feeling sorry for yourself.' I love what I do. It does not kill me. I love the offseason, I have told you that before. I love building the team. I love being part of those decisions – making tough decisions. The toughest one we have had in the last few years was Anquan [Boldin]. But we knew if he did not take the deal that we could improve on other sides of the ball. If he had taken the reduction, we would have been free to spend a little money. When he did not take the reduction, we had a lot of money, and that got us Daryl Smith and [Elvis] Dumervil. I do not think that we were a worse team without Boldin and with Dumervil and Daryl. I love … I really like all the information that goes into making those kind of decisions. So, I do not see me going anywhere. I just like what we do; it is fun. When I play that game in my head, it does not take long before I think, 'What the hell would I be doing if it was not for this?' I just had my second grandbaby. You can bounce them on your knee a little bit, you can play golf, and you can go to the gym, which I hate. This consumes a lot of my life, and I really like doing it, and I really like doing it with these guys."
Before I ask a question, can I get a clarification? When you use the term, "The pitchforks are out," are you holding one? Or is that a reference? (Mark Viviano)
(BISCIOTTI) "It is a reference to the people that want to solve my problems, and the problems are always … Solving the problems are always the exact same. I asked [executive assistant to the owner] Pam [Lund] yesterday morning to give me the transcripts of every press conference – this press conference – that I have had since [John Harbaugh's] first year at the end of 2008 – 61 pages worth. The solution to every single problem is, 'Fire my coach. Fire my GM. Fire my offensive coordinator. Fire my defensive coordinator, and fire Joe [Flacco].' Over and over and over again. It did not matter whether we got to the Divisional Round or the AFC Championship game. They were calling for Dean Pees' head in the middle of our Super Bowl year. [They said], 'He is terrible.' I put up with that, and it is easier to put up with that when you are winning. It is harder to look them in the eyes and read this and say, 'It is not the solution. I did not get to where I was by just firing people.' I think it is a bad model, especially in this business. But I do not have as much to fall back on, except then saying, 'Trust me, this is the right way to run a business.' That is not good enough for probably a quarter of our fans. They are like, 'Then, you are over the hill, and you are an idiot!' That is fine with me. I would be more than happy to take some blame for that if that is what they consider to be my weakness."
The leadership group that you have up there right now, you guys have been together a long time, and each of you speak of a friendship and a trust. Are they harder to navigate in hard times, and do they at all make your job more difficult if and when hard decisions have to be made? (Mark Viviano)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"It definitely makes your decision harder if you feel for people, but it didn't stop me from firing people in my old business – guys at the very top of my organization. But it was a whole lot easier to isolate a failing executive than it was a failing GM or coach or quarterback, or everything else, because everything they do is intertwined. That's not the way it was in my business, so I told you a year or two ago. The people that are running our business that is going to do $11-12 billion in sales are the exact same people that I hired out of college in the '80s and the early '90s and the mid-90s. They're all running this multi-national, $11-12 billion company, but I could name 20 of them that I had to fire, because they weren't going to get us here. They weren't going to get to that point. It was much easier for me to isolate and pin blame on an individual than it is in this business. So, when I work with these guys, I see that everybody assumes a certain amount of blame, and it's more than 100 percent when I tally it up, and that's the kind of people I want to work with."
Steve, you've had some serious words about QB Joe Flacco needing to be better next year, but in terms of getting there, how much of that needs to be from him? And then how much of it is you guys sitting up there, finding ways to make the environment around him better? (Childs Walker)
*(HARBAUGH) *"That's a great question, and I think it kind of goes to what Steve was saying. If you ask Joe [Flacco] that question, he would tell you it's all on him. You know, he has to get better – his footwork, mechanics, his reads. That's where Joe would go with it. And then Joe, I have a conversation with Joe: 'OK, Joe, let's take it to the next step. What do we need to do?' He'll give us his ideas on that, and it's pretty consistent with what all of us think. Joe is aware of what's going on. That's the same thing when I walk into Ozzie's office. I'll say, 'What do we need to do to get Joe better?' Ozzie is going to say, 'We need to put some players around him.' I look at myself or I talk to my coaches, 'What do we need to do to get Joe better?' We've got to coach better. We've got to build a better system around him. We've got to call better plays. We've got to do a better job of coaching our offensive line to keep him clean, or whatever it might be. Those are the things that we talk about, just specific to football. That's where we take responsibility, and that's where I'm coming from. That's what I need to do. I need to get Joe to execute better and to build a better team around him and a better offense around him that allows him to execute better, because football is a team sport. So, to me, it falls on all of us, and if you talk to any one of us, we would say that it falls pretty much all on that person. I know Joe feels that way."
(BISCIOTTI) "And I don't think that I'm any more critical of Joe than I am of these guys. That's what I'm saying. I think if I ask Joe to be here … You know, Dick doesn't want to be here. *(laughter) *I mean honestly, if I had asked Joe, 'Would you want [to be here]? I mean, look, you're being criticized as much as my coach and my GM. Do you want to be here?' He would have been sitting right there. If he had, you guys would have gone, 'Oh, what's going on?' If I called Joe and said, 'Do you want to come and deal in these meetings? These guys are trying to get better, and they're trying to make the other people better. They're trying to pick and choose the right players to create that foundation.' If I called Joe and said, 'Do you want to come down Saturday and Sunday?' He would be there. Maybe that's not a bad idea. Maybe we should invite him down this weekend, because he's open to criticism, and he'd tell you what he thinks he needs to be better. But like John said, most of it, he'd put on himself."
Steve you mentioned earlier, Ozzie and Eric DeCosta can draft better. Well, in the past few years, there have been some high draft picks that haven't contributed, probably to the extent that the organization would like. To what extent do you think some of those misses at the top of the draft have led this organization to where it's at right now? (Bo Smolka)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"I think it's significant. I think that we … I went back to ESPN – [Todd] McShay and all those guys – and I watched the films of the [Charley] Casserly and all those people when we drafted Matt Elam. There wasn't a one that questioned him being great. When we traded up for Arthur Brown, they said we had two of the best players in the draft – fast, hard-hitting, fly-to-the-football kind of guys. So, that happens. You 'miss' players. I look around the league and see plenty of 'missed' players. It's not just us. It's just he [Ozzie Newsome] has had such a stellar reputation, that the expectations are so high, that he doesn't get much leeway when it comes to making 'misses' like that. But those are high-profile ones, and then you turn around in the third, fourth and fifth round, and then you've got Brandon Williams and Kyle Juszczyk and Rick Wagner. If you've got one of the best nose tackles in football and one of the fullback/H-backs in football and one of the better right tackles in football in a draft, you'd say, 'OK, they were good.' If you had flipped them over to say one, two, three, four and five, nobody would have complained about Elam and Arthur Brown. He's being exposed, because there were higher-profile guys, but in these drafts, we are finding really good players in the later rounds. It just shined a negative light on Ozzie. But if you think it shook my confidence in Ozzie and Eric, it didn't. Those things happen, and they happen all across the league."
For obvious reasons, the last few years, you all have raised the character bar real high in player personnel decisions and drafting. If you want to get playmakers, don't you have to take some chances? You used to say the strength and character of the organization could help some guys. Is it possible you all have been a bit gun-shy about that the past couple of years? (Peter Schmuck)
*(NEWSOME) *"We weigh the risks. Within this organization, we have a lot of people that have been around athletes that have had issues, but when we take a player, especially through the draft, then we come up with a plan of what that player needs – not only on the football field, but off the field. I don't think we're afraid of 'character guys,' but we want guys that, No. 1, love to play football, that are going to be here on time and hopefully not get in trouble when they leave. But we have to do any and everything that we can with 21- and 22- and 23-year-old athletes to help them so that they can go from being a young Ray Lewis or a young Jamal Lewis, who had issues, to end up being stellar leaders within the organization. We're not afraid of that. I think there are good players that don't have character issues. Ronnie Stanley is a real good football player, and he doesn't have any character issues. But, we're not afraid of it. When we do take someone, it's upon all of us to make sure that that guy is doing everything he needs to do to change his life."
*(BISCIOTTI) *"A lot of these issues … I think that we learned a few years ago that, categorically, you have to look at them [individually]. To say 'character' is a pretty big pot. I think you know there are some people that we are going to take off our board that do real well in the league. That's just the way it goes. Categorically, yes – domestic abuse? Not taking them. Kansas City is in the playoffs partly because a guy they took a chance on. Will we take chances like that again? I don't think so. But, we were all 22 – smoking pot and bar fights and cheating on tests and things like that. If you're not willing to take chances and give people second chances, then yes, you'll be out in the cold. You'll miss a lot of good guys."
As you pointed out, the league is so close, you almost came six inches from being in the playoffs. Are you willing to look at these guys and say: Well, if we go 9-7 this year and miss the playoffs, but somebody else picked a better player and they go ahead of us, does that come into the equation? (Peter Schmuck)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"Yes, it kind of does – all the time. I think you learn lessons there. Yes, you definitely do. But like Ozzie says, it really is a case-by-case basis. I don't begrudge other teams that take risks, because they are 50/50 on them. Dallas takes risks, and that one kid hasn't played a lick, and he is suspended again. We liked him as a talent. Then they're benefitting from other guys that they took a risk on that cleaned themselves up. Yes, do you take two "A" players that one of them turns out and hope that one of them grows up quicker than not? We took Jimmy Smith, and he wouldn't have slid to the 20-something pick, but everybody said he had 'problems,' and nobody at the school could figure out what they were talking about. It just got pumped and pumped and pumped to the top that he was a bad guy, and his coach and his wife, she said that she was in tears when she heard that people were disparaging Jimmy Smith. So, he slid to that position, and barring his injuries … I'm more worried about injuries than I am minor character flaws and mistakes of 22-year-olds. I'd rather avoid those, because then those tend to crop up."
There are reports saying the salary cap will go up about $10 million in 2017. I guess the players in the league have to agree on it. Is this an opportunity to lock up the core players on the team or an opportunity to make a bigger splash in free agency? (Todd Karpovich)
*(NEWSOME) *"We've had success – locking up Jimmy [Smith], locking up [Marshal] Yanda a third time – with some of our guys. Then you have to deal with some of the guys who go into the last year of their deal, and they've made the decision that they want to test the market. It's a process of whether you're dealing with a player and his agent. And with the salary cap escalating as it is, then the salaries of the players are escalating also. You have to play the game. But anytime we get a chance to get to the player before he gets to free agency, I think the deal is a good deal for Steve [Bisciotti] and a good deal for the player."
There has been a lot of talk about Joe Flacco and how to make him better and to get him back to the top of his game. The quarterback coach position, is this just window dressing? What type of people are you contemplating bringing in? Is it just philosophical, or is that an important position? (Stan Charles)
*(HARBAUGH) *"Obviously, it can be, and you'll get around the league, some teams it's a major position and other teams it's not. It kind of depends on your coordinator, too – what role he plays. The main communicator to Joe is going to be the offensive coordinator in our case. You don't want a bunch of voices, I don't believe, talking to your quarterback. You don't want him to hear a lot of different ways of doing things. You want it to be straight forward coming from the play-caller. When the quarterback and the play-caller are on the same page, you're a lot farther down the road. The most important relationship is between Marty Mornhinweg and Joe Flacco, in terms of how we build this pass offense and the offense generally, including his fundamentals and technique. The quarterback coach will be the guy who executes that. We're in the process of talking to some different people. We have one in-house candidate, and we have candidates outside that we're talking to – both professional and college coaches. We're going to try and bring the best guy in here that fits what we're trying to accomplish. It has to be a guy that understands where we're going offensively and how our concepts work. It has to be a guy that can really relate to Joe in a good way to help him and really do a good job on the field in terms of the technique stuff."
Will Marty Mornhinweg have a lot of input on that? (Stan Charles)
*(HARBAUGH) *"Oh yes, Marty is very much involved with that."
Is there a way that you need to see next season, the 2017 season going, a trajectory it's taking, before considering any potential changes? Is there a tipping point that you have thought about at all since the end of this season, a success rate that you want to see next year before considering change? (Shawn Stepner)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"You know I can't quantify it. If Joe goes out for the year in Week 2, I'm going to grade with a curve. If we have the kind of injuries we had last year … I graded with a curve last year at 5-11. I just can't project that out, because there are so many variables that go into that. I really can't. But I can just tell you right now that I trust my partners."
This question is for Steve. You talked about the fans earlier and the friendships and everything going into the team, but there is a business side to the NFL and about putting good products on the field, fans in the stands and buying jerseys and all of that. With you being a fan yourself, how much does that weigh on you and your decisions being able to divide that with putting a decent product on the field and give back to the fans? (Bill West)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"It weighs on me like nothing else, and that's what I'm trying to communicate, is that people associate losing with … That the owner's job is to start whacking people to prove that he really cares. And I guarantee you that if I fired John, a lot of people would be happy, except me and Ozzie and Dick. So, who am I ultimately here for? I have to trust my instincts, and if I lose 10 percent of my fans because they don't like my decision-making, what kind of leader would I be if I say, 'That's what you guys want, so that's what I'll give.'? I'd have so many people saying, 'You chicken, you just threw John under the bus.' So, you can't win when you have major decisions. You have a million stakeholders that all have opinions, and if I fired Ozzie, they'd say, 'You're blind. He's not the one you should have gotten rid of.' They'd point to Flacco, and if we benched Flacco, they'd say, 'You idiot. All you needed to do was get rid of your coach.' So, unless I fire everybody and start over again, then … And if I fired everybody, they'd go, 'Oh, my God. The guy is drunk on his own success.' I understand that I'm bouncing around in this world of public opinion, and ultimately, I have to be true to myself, and I hope that I please most of the fans, and I think that it will. I think that Dick and I have been around town, and we've talked to people. We've been around the league, and we've talked to people. We're still admired by an awful lot of people that still have an awful lot of faith in the way that we do things around here. I've got to take solace in that and do what I believe is right."
Dick, will ticket prices be going up this year? (Josh Gordon)
*(DICK CASS) *"We haven't raised prices in four years; we've only raised prices once in the last eight. I think now, this past year, we were in the bottom half of the league, in terms of ticket prices. Also, since we last raised prices, we've spent about $45 million improving the stadium, and over the next two-and-a-half years, we're going to spend an additional $120 million, and that will include putting some escalators and elevators to the top level, which will make a lot of our PSL holders up there happy. So, we're seriously considering a price increase, but we won't announce what we're going to do until probably the end of January or early February."
(BISCIOTTI) *"They ask you one question, and you've got to be the bearer of bad news." *(laughter)
(CASS) *"That's my job. That's what you pay me for, so you don't have to do it." *(laughter)
*(HARBAUGH) *"But there are new escalators going in."
(CASS) *"That's for the old people, like me." *(laughter)
Ozzie, this one is for you: How much value do you see, in terms of what OLB Terrell Suggs is still bringing to the table? And how much longer do you still see him as the foundation and the defensive leader that he's been here for many years? (Garrett Downing)
*(NEWSOME) *"We went through personnel meetings last Thursday, and I think both from the coaching side and from the personnel side, we all want 'Sizz' back. But 'Sizz' brings another element, not only with his performance on the field, but with his leadership. As [defensive coordinator] Dean [Pees] says, 'When 'Sizz' is at practice, practice is different. When he's not, then it's different.' You're talking about a guy that played with two injuries at the end of the year – he had the biceps and he had the elbow – and he was still out there giving 100 percent. He's had some great discussions with John about what his plans are for this offseason, but we expect him to be back."
Two-parter that involves player safety and Thursday Night Football. It makes money, coaches primarily hate it, and players hate it. I would think that getting ready to play again is difficult for trainers, for everybody. Why are we still playing Thursday Night Football? (Nestor Aparicio)
(BISCIOTTI) *"Good question, good question. No. 1, I don't know that there's ever been a player poll on how much they hate it. It seems to me that a lot of these guys talk about how they don't get pressed very much; they basically get walk-throughs before a Thursday game, and then they get four days off afterwards. I think they paid us over $400 million a year for Thursday Night Football, is that correct?" *(CASS: "Yes.") "OK, there are 1,800 players in the league, and there are probably 1,000 of them that are [playing] on the minimum [salary], let's say, right? Rookie contracts and veteran minimums, maybe more than that. But let's just say it's 1,000; that's 800 players. If you took those 800 players and you said, 'You're going to give up $200 million,' because we split revenues about equally with the players, and we said, 'You like it so little that you're willing to give up … Each veteran player that makes more than the minimum has to give up a quarter-of-a-million dollars a year.' To give up one Thursday night game, how many do you think would vote for that? Any player that I've heard complain about it never says, 'I'd be willing to give up a quarter-of-a-million dollars to get rid of one game on a Thursday night.' So, let's do a better analysis of that before we decide that the vocal minority that hate it are willing to give up a quarter-of-a-million dollars of their pay, because that's about what it would be."
Do you think it's good football? (Nestor Aparicio)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"I think it's great football. I think it's fine football. I see some crappy games on Sunday. I don't know about that. Again, I've never seen a real statistical analysis of it to say that there are more punts or less yardage. If there is, then it is, but it should be affecting two teams equally, and so I don't register it like that, because it's not like one team is … I don't think that teams get a bye week before they play Thursday. I don't think any team ever gets 10 days [off] versus three days. So, if that was the case, that would be unfair, but if it's down 10 percent from a quality standpoint, you'd have to base that on yardage, first downs and points. And again, I don't see anybody doing that analysis, so it's easy to complain when you're not talking about it actually coming out of your pockets. I think that our fans and millions of people tune in on Thursday nights to watch football."
Steve, that said, there is a lot of talk this year about ratings being down. Some fans are frustrated with the off-field issues, maybe some of the officiating. Do your owner partners feel that way? Are they worried at all about the perception? (Keith Mills)
*(BISCIOTTI) *"This is the most precipitous drop we've ever had, right? It has to be compared with everything else that they're doing. I don't know if [the television show] 'CSI' is down 10 percent, also. You'd have to compare apples to apples by looking at general viewership. But yes, those numbers were pretty stark at the beginning of the year, and some people said it was the election. But we'll take a look at it. And, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that nobody wants to see two minutes of commercials, come back, kick the ball and then go to a minute-and-a-half of commercials. I've thought that was absurd since I was 20 years old. We've got to figure that out. Again, if you change that, it could mean a reduction in income, but that's going to hit the players more significantly than it's going to hit the owners. I still don't know any owner that's in this business because of the money. Everything is on the table, and if we have to go to ABC and NBC and say that we've got to cut some commercials out and give some money back and half of that money doesn't go into the player pool, maybe that's what we're going to have to do. But our expenses would be adjusted accordingly, too. So, I'd like to see some things cleaned up. I'm a big fan of the refs, because I think their job is so hard, and I keep bringing that up about the 10 different camera angles and things like that. I think we can get better at how we do it. I like the [replay official] guy upstairs; I like referees seeing what we see when you see three quick camera angles. There are so many times when I think, 'That guy made a catch,' last night in that game [CFP National Championship].' And then you see it from the other side, and you go, 'Oh, no, no, no. That ball touched the ground.' I think how we implement refereeing has to change. I don't think those guys can get any better, and I'm certainly a proponent for that, and I think a lot of the other owners are, too. I think we're going to make some strides."
This is a question for Ozzie: When you won the Super Bowl the first time, you kept the team together for the most part and tried to win again the next year, which we've discussed in years before. You wound up paying the price under the salary cap, and you said you regretted that. Now, this time after winning the Super Bowl, you've gone about it a little differently, some of which we've talked about. I'm wondering, four years later, what, if any, major lessons have you learned about how to follow up success like that and how tough it is? (John Eisenberg)
*(NEWSOME) *"I think John really helps me with this on a daily basis. For 365 days out of the year, we're always trying to improve the roster. You would think, 'Why did we pick Vince Mayle up right before our last game?' We're trying to improve the roster. The roster has to be the single-most important thing that I have to be responsible for, because we don't know when the injuries are going to show up. And if you go back to 2000 to 2001, Mr. [Art] Modell, and where he was at his stage of his life, he was part of that decision for us to [say], 'Let's try to go get it again.' You know, we had the older guys that were on the team. I think when we won it in 2012, we just made a conscious decision that over the long haul – because of Joe [Flacco] – that we would take a different route. And it's tough. I don't think it's going to take us 12 years to get back there; I just don't feel that way. But we decided to go a different route this time, and the other thing is, we're playing players younger. Somehow, draft choices are getting on the field, and sometimes it's out of necessity, and coaches have to do a good job of that. We're just dealing with it different, but for me, 365 days of the year, I'm concerned about the roster. Right now, it's the 90-man roster. Eventually, it'll be the 53-[man roster] and the 10- [man practice squad]."